The history of continuing education at Oxford

140 years ago, a movement called 'Oxford Extension' began at the University of Oxford - an initiative that sprang from general educational reforms in the mid-Victorian era, and from a growing national sense of social awareness.

The history of Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education is several stories in one: it's the story of a handful of dedicated Oxford tutors who felt that educational opportunity was essential to the nation's welfare and future; it's an account of ordinary citizens collaborating with Oxford to design a format of education that served their needs; and it's the story of adult education evolving as successive generations of students, from 1878 to the present day, participated in ever-growing numbers.

The articles below are milestones in our efforts to bring Oxford teaching to the widest possible audience.

19th century beginnings

Social reform was imminent, and educational reform was at the forefront of the debate.

Taking the University outside Oxford

From the first 'Oxford Extension Lecture' in 1878, women students were in the majority.

The Rev'd Arthur Johnson

The don who delivered the first Oxford Extension Lecture in Birmingham in September, 1878, was the perfect choice for the job at hand.

The importance of rail

Oxford Extension was an idea which was put forth prior to 1850; yet could not take place until more than 25 years later.

Summer meetings

From 1888, students began consolidating their year's extension lectures by attending intensive 'summer meetings'.

Dawn of the 20th century

The beginning of the 20th century marks a time in which the political and social advancement of ordinary working people was on the rise.

Raising the bar

From 1908, a new and higher standard of learning was required and it was supplied through collaborative effort.

Acquisition of Rewley House

In 1927 the University purchased Rewley House on Wellington Square to be the physical base for the Department of Continuing Education.

A memoir: 1913 and 1930

This snapshot of summer school life in 1930 was recorded just after the acquisition of Rewley House.

'The Education of a Whole Coalfield'

How tutors and students brought adult education into small mining villages in North Staffordshire.

Vera Brittain and Oxford Extension

In the latter 19th century and in the early decades of the 20th, women had almost no opportunities for higher education.

1945-55: teaching in West Africa

For a decade between 1945 and 1955, the Department sent tutors to Nigeria, Ghana and the Gold Coast.

1948: Harper Lee's summer in Oxford

Pulitzer Prize winning author Harper Lee attended the Department's International Graduates' Summer School in 1948.

The 1980s: expanding continuing education

A growing number of people of all ages and backgrounds wished to have university-level educational opportunities.

Roger Bannister's fourth challenge

Sir Roger Bannister, celebrated for his four-minute mile and as a neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, was an avid lifelong learner who completed our Diploma in Creative Writing, and brought dedication and talent to his studies.

The Department today

The Department has risen to meet many challenges in the 21st century.

What's in a name?

Our name has changed many times, but our mission has always remained the same: teaching to adult learners outside the traditional Oxford undergraduate community.